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Organic Chemistry: Is there any research on any psychedelics anymore?

  1. Oct 27, 2011 #1
    I'm really interested in how psychedelics and their alkaloids do what they do. I'd really like to get a graduate degree in organic chemistry with a focus on alkaloids or a subdivision thereof. But, I'm worried about how I'd make a living by studying things or things similar to things that are illegal. Anything I created would be made illegal in the US as a designer drug as soon as I published anything on it and someone decided to use it for non-research purposes.

    Is there any research being done in this area or am I going to have to move to the Caribbean or South America if I want to research stuff like this? I'm a senior in high school, so I'm asking because I'm trying to decide what I want to do in college. What I'm not is some hippie kid that just wants to get high or trip; there's plenty of natural ways to do that. My goal is just to understand how simple chemicals can break reality in such profound ways.

    EDIT: Title should be: Organic Chemistry: Is there any research on psychedelics anymore?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 28, 2011 #2
    I'm no expert on this exact topic but I'll try to give you something useful:

    Total synthesis of naturally occurring alkaloids is a very big area though, and includes synthesis of some psychedelic alkaloids. However, the motivation for making them is primarily to showcase methodology, confirm proposed structures, simply take on the challenge, or to provide enough/more material for biological testing. The last area seems to be your motivation, and unfortunately I find it unlikely that you could find a group that focusses on the synthesis of psychedelic alkaloids primarily because they're psychedelic. In order to secure funding, there must be some medicinal potential (however small), or there needs to be rare/novel/particularly interesting molecular architecture - simply being mind-altering is not enough.

    My advice to you is to look at the use/potential of psychedelic compounds as therapeutic agents.
  4. Oct 28, 2011 #3
    Maybe something like focusing on serotonin-like alkaloids and a bachelor's or master's in psychology and neuroscience would be helpful. That's a good idea to research them as therapeutic agents; there seems to be a trend of that becoming a more acceptable use lately. I've read about a study using psilocybin to help terminal cancer patients with their anxiety about death. One of the attributes that figure strongly in my interest in psychedelics is their ability to help people come to terms with problems. I would be really interested in seeing if they can help people with personality disorders. I think a self-disassociative like psilocybin could help people become okay with themselves and their disorders and possibly overcome them entirely.

    I may be misunderstanding the idea behind organic chemistry. Does it also study the question of how chemicals affect the body/brain? For example, would studying how psilocybin causes the mind/brain to perceive things that are actually familiar as novel be an organic chemistry study or a neuroscience study (or somewhere in between)? If somewhere in between, which would be more relevant?

    Thanks for your reply.
  5. Oct 29, 2011 #4
    Sounds like you're looking for "medicinal chemistry", which is basically a blend of organic chemistry and biochem/medicine. To make some sweeping generalisations:

    -Med chem is about tweaking structures to maximise biological activity
    -Involves elucidation of mode of action of a drug
    -Synthesis of extended libraries of derivatives and determination of structure-activity relationships to develop more potent compounds following early "hits"
    -The synthetic chemistry and structures are usually simple (like psilocybin), because it is obviously harder to make extensive libraries of more complicated structures, but if your main interest is in the medicinal side then that's fine. You do certainly get med-chem with complicated structures though (iminosugars and galbulimima alkaloid derivatives are alkaloid examples off the top of my head), it's just rarer.
  6. Oct 29, 2011 #5
    YES! That sounds like it's exactly what I'm interested in. From what I've read on Wikipedia, med chem is what I'll do into, if I decide not to pursue my interest in math.

    Thank you.
  7. Oct 29, 2011 #6
    I really, really could NOT recommend a career in organic chemistry or med chem to anyone. Industry is horrible these days and thousands of organic/med chemists are unemployed or are stuck in years and years of underemployment having to move from temp job to temp job.

    If you are still interested in chemistry, analytical chemists always seem to have better job prospects. Analytical work can be extremely tedious and boring though. Petrol or chemistry related to materials (polymer chemistry) may afford you better job opportunities as well. Your first job out of college will determine which type of chemist you'll be stuck as your entire career. It's almost impossible to move between different fields of chemistry. Once you are a med chemist, you are a med chemist, you won't be able to move to polymer chemistry if your industry goes south. Unfortunately I got sucked into med chem after college and have highly regretted it ever since. I'm now stuck in grad school trying to retrain. I wasted 8 years of my life working in med chem that I'll never get back and will probably never be able to find work in again.
  8. Oct 29, 2011 #7
    Hm... that's unfortunate. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do and my very broad interests leave everything from chemistry to math to computers open, so it's good to have information to help me eliminate a field/make the decision easier.

    Thanks for the warning.
  9. Nov 6, 2011 #8
    I'd also advise you to stay away from chem. I'm an organic chemist looking to go back to school next year for engineering. But if you're really interested in working with psychedelics, I'd look into Nichols's group at Purdue(http://www.mcmp.purdue.edu/faculty/?uid=drdave). I think that's one of the few (only?) labs doing legit research using lsd and other psychedelics.
  10. Nov 9, 2011 #9
    Yes from what I know of, research was being by Harvard's faculty member at mclean clinic. Psilocybin treatment for cluster headaches aka suicide headaches.
  11. Nov 9, 2011 #10
    Yes, I've heard about that too, it's pretty interesting how LSD and psilocybin works so well with cluster headaches and migraines.
    I was once pretty interested in chemistry, but it's terrible to find a good paying job. So I got into chemical engineering, not much chemistry, but I had the opportunity to take some classes at least.
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